You used to come into my class smelling like goat, Bob tells me as we sit somewhere drinking beer—my back porch maybe, or coffee at Central Market, or Mozart’s, or was it at the Algonquin bar drinking vodka martinis. That was what, thirty-seven years ago give or take. I was working on my second unpublished novel at the time, sitting at Sebastian’s every morning after teaching my morning classes, after eating a breakfast of eggs over easy and toast, drinking coffee and writing paragraph after paragraph in a spiral notebook. Whiskey Mike and Max Reinhardt were living in Wells, Maine, both veterans of the six day war—dots on the horizon on a June day—Whiskey working on his novel and Max working out, running the cold wet pavement next to the brooding Atlantic, a former college receiver, thinking about trying out for a Canadian football team. Amanda lived with them—was that her name. Her husband had been missing four years, shot down over Cambodia. Nixon was busy getting re-elected, never mind everyone knowing he was still just Tricky Dick. Or was her name Julia. She was teaching school, living in a kind of limbo of dread and hope.
And we didn’t mind you coming in smelling like goat, Bob was saying. The poet smiles, admitting nothing, not really knowing the truth of the suggestion, but more than willing to accept the storyline. There were moments.
He’s writing the novel in 1980, the story taking place in 1972 which then seemed like distant history. There was a scene with a rowboat, stacked with lumber, sinking in the bay near Sullivan. Max and Whiskey Mike freezing cold. Another with the National Guard at the University of Maryland in May 1970. Max getting kicked out of school in the spring of 1966 after being caught with a coaches wife. Dots on the horizon, the Mediterranean Sea. Another with Max simply catching a pass in a park.
Sometime last year, I burned the six spiral notebooks that held the first and last draft of the novel. It was writing it that mattered. Sitting in a café every morning after class and writing until noon. The months. Then it was time to get to work on the degree.
He liked the image of his smelling like goat, liked the implications behind it.
There are these tiny rules one has to follow, Allen Toussaint, talking about jazz and professor longhair. It sounds wild and free, but there are these tiny rules one has to follow. The same with kisses and embraces. Wild and free come with them, the tiny rules, the understanding that wild and free has to be mutual, that the truth of a thing has to hold constant. Wild and free are only talking points today, but so is the truth of a thing.
Difficult to explain to a people chained to old conventions.
They drink coffee or beer or martinis and slur the stories together. But nothing comes without risk or payment. Getting too close to the beauty of a thing runs the same risk as seeing the face or almost seeing the face of God. The claims are no one can survive it. But he thinks it isn’t so much seeing the sacred as surviving when it turns away. A brief glimpse is all anyone seems to get. He almost hangs himself. The emptiness of almost touching—
There is the constant paradox of having to own what one loves, but love owned is not love. It is something else altogether.
And he knows the Romantics passed through the narrative a hundred fifty years or so before he was born, but the residuals hang. And nothing has come along, absolutely nothing, which makes getting up in the morning any better.
It’s afternoon. I’ve walked almost five miles, doing intervals on the hill. Washed my clothes. Drove my wife to the airport. Helped empty the dishwater. Something has to count.